Thursday, July 24, 2014

Balanced Leadership, being intentional with leadership

 “Summer is three months off between the end of school and the start of the next school year.”  How often do educators hear that quote?  Recently at KASB a group of 18 educational leaders took some of that “time off,” to gain a better understanding of the research surrounding effective educational leadership.  As participants in the Balanced Leadership program, this group of educational leaders will spend a total of seven days working with the Leadership Services staff refining and developing their skills as educational leaders.  The participants spent the first two days unpacking the research associated with the McREL Balanced Leadership framework, and reflecting on their own leadership behaviors.  They discussed and reflected on how they manage change they face within their schools.  One of the key pieces of knowledge educational leaders discussed is how the magnitude of change is directly connected to the perceptions of the individual experiencing the change.  
The educational leaders were also asked to reflect on their school’s focus. Are we spending our time and resources on people and programs that impact achievement? The administrative teams reviewed research and discussed ideas that will yield the desired results? McREL’s Balanced Leadership program is designed to enhance the skills of building level leaders.  A major outcome of the McREL Balanced Leadership framework, is equipping leaders to shift the focus to those practices that have research based, results driven programs.  
Is our school community purposeful?  Have all stakeholders agreed on outcomes that align to our students’ needs. Class members discussed topics ranging from developing collective efficacy to improve and enhance building culture to managing first and second order change. Those are the core questions the educational leaders considered as they assessed their school community.  Our school community often has not answered these critical questions, and consequently do not make the desired gains, as their processes and resources are spread too thin.
The educational leaders here at KASB early this week spent time working and sharing knowledge and insights, learning from past experience as they worked to improve their leadership skills.  It is always impressive to work with committed, hardworking school leaders.

The educational leaders’ Balanced Leadership training is a partnership between KASB and McREL.  It is based on the proven research and resources of McREL and focuses participants on the knowledge and skills needed to bring about the changes required to improve student achievement.  For more information, please contact KASB.  

Leadership for Tomorrow heads to southwest Kansas

Every year since the Leadership for Tomorrow program was established at KASB in 2004, a session has been held in western Kansas. This year was no exception. Fifteen of the 17 participants were in Ulysses and Hugoton last week to learn about schools in the two communities. As is generally the case, learning about the communities was also a valuable part of the visit. Several of the participants, other than passing through western Kansas on their way to Colorado, had never had the opportunity to learn about the richness of life in western Kansas, particularly in the booming southwest part of the state.

From massive fields of succulent corn enabled by the creeping mechanical giants known as a center pivot irrigation system to the feedlots that allowed thousands of cattle at a time to be fattened up on their last stop before a slaughterhouse located in Liberal, Dodge or Garden City, our travelers were able to observe first-hand the different industries that feed a hungry nation. They also had opportunities to learn about the diverse populations of the area. What had originally been predominantly white communities 20-30 years ago are now heavily Hispanic, while the schools themselves are a minority/majority district, as in Ulysses, or a very balanced mix, as in Hugoton. The blending of ethnicities is not the only change. On top of the original Protestants and Catholics, there is a growing number of Mennonites arriving from Mexico that speak neither Spanish nor English, but what is known as Low German.  These changes have made for some tremendous challenges in what these two districts need to do to successfully offer their students a quality education.

The economic conditions of the two districts have also changed. While both still have high levels of wealth per student, 2-3 times the state average, student bodies of the districts have grown increasingly poor. In the 2013-14 school year, Ulysses reported a free/reduced lunch rate of 62 percent. Hugoton’s was 59 percent. The state average is close to 50 percent.

In Ulysses,Superintendent Dave Younger, a 2013 LFT alum, led a tour of district facilities. It included viewing remodeling projects designed primarily to enhance student and staff security and visiting a new facility the district recently purchased that will make district maintenance and purchasing operations more efficient by bringing them together. He cited last year’s LFT visit to Salina as inspiration for the purchase.

In Hugoton, participants were given an extensive opportunity to learn about the district’s charter school, one of 11 operating in the state, from Superintendent Mark Crawford, another LFT alum. What sets the school apart from many other alternative schools across the state is HLA's focus on a very unique student population: undocumented students from Mexico that have accompanied their parents from Mennonite communities in northern Mexico. Although many of the students know some English, their parents generally only speak a German dialect. Perhaps even more difficult than overcoming the language barrier is these families bring a tradition where schooling usually ends before 16 for both boys and girls, and that simply doing the necessary work of running a farm or a household are generally the only educational expectations.

On top of the visits, KASB staff facilitated several spirited discussions. One was on the importance of identifying the district’s key outcomes and keeping the focus of district efforts on those outcomes. A second was on the role of evaluation in keeping instruction at a high level.

As with most other KASB events, food functions played a key role in building the networking that is an essential part of the LFT experience. The highlight was a bar-b-q in Ulysses in the backyard of board member Dave Otis Thursday night. Dave and his wife were ably aided by the Youngers and Roger Hilton, Ulysses assistant superintendent and LFT participant, and his wife. It may have been the chilliest July bar-b-q in southwest Kansas history as many of the folks were sporting sweatshirts and jackets! Not surprisingly, Mexican food was on the menu for a number of participants Wednesday night in Great Bend and Thursday for lunch in Ulysses.

Even though a number of them had a pretty good drive ahead of them, many participants mingled around after the conclusion of the program talking about the session, what they would take home with them and what to look forward to at the Sept. 10 and 11 session in Wichita.

Although the LFT participants saw southwest Kansas at the top of its game, the reliance of the Ogallala Aquifer to fuel the booming farming/livestock industry is always part of the picture. Read about long-term concerns for the aquifer here.

To learn about KASB’s Leadership for Tomorrow program, visit

Thursday, July 3, 2014

QFIC, Not Just Another Educational Acronym

QFIC, no it does not stand for the Quebec Forest Industry Council, I know that is what you all were thinking!  QFIC, or Quality, Fidelity, Intensity, Consistency is a mindset that we teach when working with districts on their leadership development and evaluation systems.  

Many of you are thinking, “why do we need another acronym to confuse us, and the people that we try to inspire, as we lead our buildings and districts.”  QFIC is a mindset that we have to develop and reinforce within our organization, and it starts with the leaders of that organization. This summer I have had some great opportunities to work with districts on developing the QFIC mindset as they reflect on the implementation of their “new” evaluation systems.  These districts are trying to ensure that they are getting the highest level of effectiveness with the evaluation systems they implemented this past year.  We have worked with them on improving the quality of the evaluation process, fidelity to the intended purposes of the evaluation system, intensity that they exhibit as they use the evaluation process, and consistency as they calibrate common levels of expectations within the system while doing the evaluation process.

The questions your administrative team needs to consider as you work to instill a QFIC mindset around evaluation include:

Are we asking the “right” questions when conducting the pre-evaluation and post observation conferences?  These questions are a critical piece of the evaluation process, and when done well bring quality, insights and reflection to the process that will drive improvement of instruction and leadership.  The evaluator should be developing questions prior to the conferences that force the evaluee to reflect on their professional practices, and make the link between their actions and results.  

Do all the users of your evaluation system “look for” and “see” the same things happening when conducting observations?  “Norming” your evaluation system is a practice that should be done at a minimum on an annual basis to ensure consistency of expectations and reduce variability across your system.

Do the professional goals established link back to the areas of need for the evaluee and support the overarching district goals?  As evaluator and evaluee sit down to craft their professional goals they should be focusing on areas that will translate to improved results in the classroom or across the school.  These goals should include measurable outcomes that if met assist the school with reaching their improvement goals.  The goals developed should also incorporate the language found within the evaluation instrument. References can then be made back to the instrument by the evaluee and evaluator so they can easily monitor growth towards the established goal.

Do the artifacts collected validate and support the level of practice by the professional?  As artifacts are collected, the evaluator and evaluee need to consider artifacts that best represent their professional abilities.  When it comes to artifacts, more is less! A system defining and deciding on quality artifacts will help the evaluee understand the expectations related to quality instructional and leadership practices.  Systems should be considering model artifacts that can be shared with evaluees so they can see and understand what quality professional practice looks like in their role.

These are a few of the questions that administrative teams should be considering as they strive to establish QFIC related to their evaluation system. Answers to the questions will continue to be important as evaluation expands over the next school year to include student growth measures. Fidelity and consistency will be very important as systems begin to analyze the data from their evaluation system to provide ongoing professional development and make personnel decisions.  QFIC is really all about culture. Systems that are working effectively and efficiently thrive on a culture of high expectations, peer support and a desire to continuously improve, in other words QFIC.

KASB leadership services staff has worked with some districts recently on these topics as they have made it through year one of implementing their new evaluation system, and are wanting to improve how evaluation is conducted in their system.  Give us a call and we would be glad to work with your team.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Another Year Gone By......

Wow, what a fast year.  Time sure flies when we are having fun.  We know, it wasn’t all fun, but as you wrap up another year with all of the spring sports, concerts, events and of course graduation take a few minutes and reflect on the year.  We are sure there were many great days for your students and staff, as well as new knowledge discovered and shared.  There were surely moments of inspiration and frustration, but education hopefully continues to be a rewarding profession for you.  Getting to observe a year of progress through so many eyes provides many powerful lessons.  As we look forward to next year and begin to map out the course for our schools and districts, lessons from this year’s litany of changes in the educational world should prove very valuable.

We thought we might take a minute to review the year in Leadership Services.  

As many of you know we added the highly motivated and talented Gary Sechrist to our team.  He has brought a new dynamic to the Leadership Services team that will help us align services to educational leaders at all levels of the system.  He has spent a great deal of time this year building the relationships with superintendents, boards and educational leaders as evidenced by him visiting every district west of Highway 81 some of them multiple times.  What an asset he has become to KASB.

Dr. Jordan began year two right where he left off.  Personnel evaluation continues to be a topic that consumes much of our energy and effort in districts across the state.  McREL Evaluation trainings at both district and building levels were a large part of the work throughout last summer and fall.  Then multiple measures burst on to the scene after the first of the year... He continues to take an active role in the planning of regional meetings and seminars to better serve our members.

We feel the Leadership Services team brings a balance of experience, knowledge, and practical sense through the services they develop and deliver .  We feel fortunate to be able to work together as a team to deliver quality services.  As you all are aware we are willing to travel anywhere to meet the needs of our member districts.

Just a quick count on projects that might be a surprise to some. This past year Leadership Services lead:

87 Whole Board Trainings (many were planning and goals setting sessions)
8   Community wide strategic planning sessions.
24 Superintendent Searches
59 Off Site Trainings (mostly McREL, evaluation, or multiple measures workshops)
4 Balanced Leadership Trainings

We have also watched our partnership with ESC’s and McREL expand as professional development requirements focused on achievement continue to drive school improvement.

Leadership Services worked with over 1,800 school leaders this past year.  That includes board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, and community members.

As you start planning for the upcoming year don’t hesitate to give us a call.  We can help make your job a little easier.

We are looking forward to seeing many of you at the summer advocacy tours.  Don’t forget, to find some time to relax, we know as educational leaders you are already planning for enrollment and back to school days with faculty and staff.  Let’s make next year another great year!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How do we get aligned?

                  In the recent months KASB Leadership Services has been working with service centers throughout the state to align supports and provide a systemic approach to developing leadership at all levels.

A systems approach to leadership is defined by a clear vision that is communicated and viable throughout all levels of the system.  This means that all levels of the system have established and are implementing goals that move them towards the board’s vision, and are utilizing common leadership vocabulary and processes to maximize resources and supports throughout the district.

As districts continue to strive to improve student performance, alignment around a systems approach to leadership becomes even more critical.  The supports that are in development will provide ongoing professional development for building-level leaders, district-level leaders, and board members to build their capacity around the leadership practices that research has shown make a difference. McREL International refers to this as the “What Matters Most” framework.

                  Supports provided are divided into two levels: Foundational Learning and Continuous Learning.  Those supports found within the Foundational Level are designed to provide leaders with the necessary tools and strategies to build on as they develop their capacity as a leader.  The Continuous Learning supports take educational leaders through deeper learning experiences that will result in them becoming more effective at their given role in the district.
                  The building level leader's Foundational Learning focuses on practical tools and strategies to deal with the rigors of the building leader role.  These include establishing a vision and uniting stakeholders around that vision; performing supervision and evaluation to improve student achievement; and developing communication channels to insure two-way communication is occurring.  This Foundational Learning will provide any principal new or experienced with a great foundation for building leadership.  
                  The Continuous Learning focus is the McREL Balanced Leadership Framework where building leaders will delve into the “art and science” of leadership.  They will also engage in reflection around their current practices and be provided techniques that will move them from a solid building leader to an exceptional building leader.  There are also opportunities within the Continuous Learning supports for building leaders to further develop their instructional leadership skills.
                  Superintendents, district leaders, and board members will have opportunities to build their capacity related to current initiatives and challenges that school districts are facing across the state.   These opportunities include topic-specific professional development for superintendents and district office leaders.  
                  School Board members can engage in activities designed around current issues in Kansas education and the district-level leadership practices that have shown over time to make a difference in student achievement.  At the foundation for superintendents, district leaders, and board members is the strategic planning process and annual monitoring of goals established within the district.
                  Through the Continuous Learning activities, superintendents, district leaders, and board members will be able to design, implement and monitor a strategic plan that moves their district to the next level of performance.  

Contact us if you have additional questions or would like more information.



Monday, March 3, 2014

Get In The Game

One of the greatest challenges of leadership is moving people forward when they would rather stand still. As a former coach (some would say old coach) I can remember many times telling players to “get in the game.” It was a phrase used to motivate, inspire, and push for better performance. It was generally used when situations were tough and the scoreboard was not in our favor.

At this time of the year politics don’t appear to be going our way. As a leader, how are we going to respond? (I know, I know you're thinking, I'm in education not politics.) Yes, we are educational leaders and some of us don’t like politics. Well, like it or not, we are in politics. Not the kind that means you are seeking office, but rather the type of politics in which we are responsible to educate and to influence. The politics that we must engage in focuses on changing people’s opinions, or as some would say "winning hearts and minds.”

How can we influence others and help generate support for public education? We must do it several ways. First, we need to open the schoolhouse doors and invite in the public. Once parents and community members are in our buildings they will see all of the positive learning activities teachers are using to impact students. They will gain a better understanding of the importance of our mission. Visitors will see students using technology, involved in cooperative, project learning, and a higher level of engagement in the learning process. Understanding that students don’t sit in rooms full of desks looking at the chalkboard will be an enlightening experience for many people.

Second, we must lead our site councils and community leaders in conversations about WHY we do what we do. We must share the VALUE of public education.  In current arguments or  debates we have allowed the focus to be on expenditures instead of investments.  We have allowed others to determine that efficiency is more important than effectiveness.  As leaders we must frame the discussions in terms that focus on the value of public education, not the costs. Benjamin Franklin did more than fly a kite, he stated, "an investment in knowledge pays the best interest."  As leaders we need to make sure we are always sharing the great things that happen everyday in our district and buildings.

The third and final thought: SPEAK UP! We must be ready with the facts, and share them. I recently read the State of Kansas ranks 4th in the nation in percent of contribution to public education. This is a true statement, but it is incomplete and misleading. The complete statement would include that in the early 1990’s Kansas Legislators decided that property tax relief was needed as well as increasing funds for public education. Property taxes were lowered and the state's contribution was raised by design to equalize educational opportunities, and disperse tax burdens across the state.

Without the entire story it is easy to misinterpret the message. The good news for public education is that we don’t have to mislead or tell part of the story. The Kansas education model works. We are not where we need to be related to educating all students, but it is worth noting that more students are achieving at higher levels in Kansas now versus any other point in time. In these difficult financial times for Kansas, public educational achievement has continued to trend upward. Indicators of the educational impact in Kansas include higher graduation rates, higher post secondary success, and progress on closing the “gap” between socioeconomic groups, race/ethnicity, and gender.

If you are looking for more facts to better tell the story, refer to: . Mark Tallman does a great job of discussing both sides of educational issues. You will gain insights that allow you to better share your public education story as you educate your stakeholders.

This blog started today by talking about coaching and ended by challenging leaders to educate the public. I hope everyone will take the opportunity to speak up. It is our responsibility to tell our story because it is a story that must be told. It is “time to get in the game.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

Is Your School in a Bad Mood?

We have entered the time of year, when the “eternal optimism” we provide as leaders can begin to wane. We have the delightful Kansas winter to deal with, numerous activities to attend, or in some cases reschedule due to “road conditions’. Indoor recess becomes the norm not the exception and leaders soon have a true understanding of the term “stir crazy”. To add complexity to our profession this is also the time when some factions of the legislature or public accuse public educators of not doing an effective job with students.

These are the times when we have to reflect on our actions as a leader and how they impact the “mood” of our schools. In reading a recent article in Educational Leadership, Moran & Moran compared an organization's morale to a mood. They went on to define that moods are a result of intense feelings or situations. There are some insights to be learned here, think about the “intense” events that make up a “normal” day in the lives of our students and staff, now compound that by the implementation of new curriculum, evaluation systems, and likely a technology initiative or two. It is no wonder our “mood” is suffering.

The reality is that being a teacher and/or educational leader is hard work, and when the intense feelings or situations begin to mount against us we begin to feel overwhelmed or discouraged with our situation. Adding the sum total of the complexities and relationships across the organization, the mood can become less than ideal. When we conduct leadership training we spend a great deal of time discussing how to create a purposeful community, where everyone is united and focused on a common mission and vision. That mission helps us determine how, and why we do the work. McREL’s Balanced Leadership often refers to “outcomes that matter to all” and “agreed upon processes”. This uniting process starts with leaders looking in the mirror and seeing an honest reflection. Do we find ourselves using our leadership skills to help our stakeholders see the bigger picture, and are we helping them connect their daily work to our overarching purpose? As leaders we often get lost in the implementation of change X and forget to see the bigger picture, and forget that any change is really a changing of people’s behaviors. Changing people’s behaviors is not a linear process or even a step-by-step process. Changing behavior more closely resembles an IEP, where each person needs different supports and solutions. If their needs are not being met, they will ultimately impact the organization’s mood. So as a leader ask this simple question, how am I impacting the mood of my organization?

The following are some key points to keep in mind as we begin to address the broad needs of our staff as they go about their daily work:
  • Understand that you set the tone as the leader; your words and more importantly your deeds portray your sense of calm, and direction, or stress, and disarray. 

  • Communication is a two-part activity, speaking and listening. Take a minute and truly listen to what your staff is saying, then tailor your response to resonate with their current set of needs. 

  • Continue to paint the picture. Humans are very visual, and when people can “see” the plan, or feel the end results, they can begin to understand how to align their work to get there. 

  • We all like to succeed from time to time. Think about ways as a leader that you can support individuals so that they may experience success within their day, or with the change they are trying to figure out. 

We often tell boards how much we value and appreciate their service and commitment to public education. As an educational leader, never pass up an opportunity to remind your staff how much you value their commitment to the most important profession….education. Nothing impacts moods or morale more than finding value in serving kids.